Unfortunately there won’t be many industries that escape the wide-ranging impacts of Coronavirus, but one vertical that could be particularly badly hit is the charity sector. Earlier this week the NCVO estimated that charities would lose £4bn in just three months as fundraising events are cancelled, charity shops are closed and normal campaigning takes a back seat to the crisis. This comes just at the time that charities are being called upon to relieve the strain on healthcare services and provide extra support for the vulnerable members of our communities. This increase in demand and simultaneous reduction of income poses an existential threat to some charities, especially smaller ones who don’t have deep pockets.
Clearly without a significant intervention from the government, most charities will have a difficult year financially. Many will be considering cost reductions, but also looking for where the opportunities might be lurking amidst the doom and gloom.
In the absence of face-to-face events and retail experiences, digital channels could be the answer and the digital activities of charities will be vital to their survivial. Even if budgets are squeezed, there is a really strong case for smart digital investment that will generate revenue and provide genuine value to charity communities.
Here are some practical steps that charities can take to improve their profile and their revenue in the coming months:
Find your narrative
For charities with a direct role in dealing with the impact of Coronavirus, the narrative is pretty obvious. Other charities will need to look a bit harder for relevant stories, but the impact of the virus is so wide-spread that it’s certain to be affecting the communities that all charities serve. How are your service users, volunteers and supporters coping with the new reality, and what are you doing to support them? Look closely enough and there may be some compelling individual stories that you can tell and which help to shine a light on the work that’s still to be done. Research has shown that donors respond best when a single, identifiable beneficiary is highlighted, so rather than talking about the big picture, focus on individual stories.
Sell what you can sell
Whilst a good narrative can help to unlock additional donations, asking for donations alone could lead to 'donation fatigue'. Some charities have other ‘products’ for sale, so now is a great time to highlight these products to your community. This could include driving new membership sign-ups or promoting your online shop. A lot of charities also offer some really appealing virtual gifts or e-vouchers. The key thing here is that your supporter base will know it’s a tough time for the charity, and will be keen to contribute. Offering them a product with genuine long-term value or utility rather than just asking for a donation makes it feel like a more ‘honest’ transaction for the user and therefore easier to justify.
Galvanise your community
One thing that all charities can be sure of is that their advocates and supporters are going through tough times right now. Being there for them during the months ahead will strengthen your community, improve your reputation and ultimately lead to a larger and more committed supporter base. One idea that we’re suggesting to our charity clients is rapidly setting up an online community site - a kind of social media platform just for your community. There’s a great Drupal distribution called Open Social, which can be set up in a matter of days and gives you all the features you’d expect of a simple social media platform out-of-the-box. This could be a great resource for people self-isolating or lonely at home, and better community engagement will continue to deliver value long after this crisis has died down.
Fix your plumbing
Regular charity donations may be reduced during the Coronavirus crisis but some online donations will still take place, so now might be the perfect time to ensure that you’re getting the most from the potential donors that visit your website. Are there any pain points in your donation journey that cause users to drop out? Have you done any A/B or multivariate testing on your donation forms to maximise the size of donations? There may be lots of seemingly small optimisations that together could make a significant difference. We carried out a similar programme of optimisation work for YHA, which had hugely significant results.
In the absence of any major intervention from the UK government, there are lots of smaller funding resources being made available to charities, so it’s certainly worth checking out the list here to see what’s available.
The reality is that 2020 is going to be a financially painful year for many industries, not least the charity sector. But with so many of the usual fundraising channels out of action, it could be the perfect time to reinvigorate your efforts online.
If you’re working for a charity and would like to discuss making the most of your digital channels during the Coronovirus crisis, we’d love to hear from you. I’m offering a free one-hour surgery for any charity clients that would like to explore ways of making digital channels work harder for them during this difficult time. Please get in touch to find out more.